g r o t t o 1 1

Peeve Farm
Breeding peeves for show, not just to keep as pets
Brian Tiemann
Silicon ValleyNew York-based purveyor of a confusing mixture of Apple punditry, political bile, and sports car rentals.

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

Steven Den Beste
James Lileks
Little Green Footballs
As the Apple Turns
Cold Fury
Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
Eric S. Raymond
Tal G in Jerusalem
Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
Ravishing Light
Cartago Delenda Est

Cars without compromise.

Book Plugs:

Buy 'em and I get
money. I think.
BSD Mall

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Sunday, March 31, 2002
02:21 - It starts...

Well, the first of what are likely to be many surprising April 1st developments among the blogs has been sighted: "AOL/InstaPundit".

Now, as April Fool's pranks go, this one would be pretty lame, especially by Glenn's standards. (I'm usually pretty dense when it comes to these things; my picture often appears next to "gullible" in the dictionary. This one is obvious even to me.) But what makes this one cool is the Register article to which he links. It would seem that web journalists the world over are complicit in this little caper, and the result is merriment for all readers. What ho!

Hey, my server's going back up! Nah, April Fool's.
Saturday, March 30, 2002
23:03 - Token Post

Wow-- I've posted almost exactly nothing today.

I guess there's a fair reason for that, which is that I spent the day with my mom and grandma up in Tiburon, which is the spiritual Kandahar of Marin County-- which, if George Bush is reading this blog (as I'm sure he is), is pronounced ma-RIN, not like Cheech.

Very cute little town; it's almost entirely tourist-ified. The little strand of restaurants where we got lunch looks like a theme park: all the storefronts are just slightly too small to look right. Many of the quaint little shops on the tree-lined shopping streets along the base of the Belvedere hill are actually converted houseboats that have been frozen at their piers between Tiburon and what was once Belvedere Island; the boats docked, and then someone came in with a bunch of dredged soil and filled it all in like quick-drying cement around Daffy Duck's feet while he stood there with a finger upraised and his mouth hanging open.

Then we walked for about three miles in what turned out to be very energy-rich sun, from Tiburon back to our cars at Blackie's Pasture. It was a beautiful walk, but it took all of an hour, and now I'm sunburned. I was so proud of myself for making it through these past two ski weekends without getting burned, and I thought I was home free-- and then, the very next weekend, what do I do? I go get sunburned right in my own backyard. Aarrrgh!

Ah well. It was worth it, I think. At least this reason for being scarce in bloggage is because of my actual life rather than because of stupid server issues.
Friday, March 29, 2002
13:39 - Yes, it's another iMac "undressing party"-- but this time I really mean it!

I can't say it any better than the title on the article itself: Apple Sent Me A Pornographic Object d' Art Without A Plain Brown Wrapper!

Such was the sentiment offered by a 75-year-old grandmother upon seeing the, uh, rather lascivious way the iMac is packaged. You'd think they'd done it that way on purpose!

Ahh, package design-- such a rewarding job it must be. You've never heard of a "disgruntled packaging design worker" before, have you?

11:48 - Movie Magic

You know how people always say "Macs are better for multimedia, video editing, DVD creation, blah blah blah", and how PC users will sort of wave their hands each time they hear it and go "Yeah, yeah, gimme a break-- a computer's a computer"? Or as the guy Lileks argued with a few days ago, "Who would want to do that?" Well, you know what? It isn't all just marketing bluster. It isn't just subjective PR by devoted Mac-heads trying to retain legitimacy. It's for real, guys.

Just this morning I finished my second major video project-- the distillation of the footage I took at Sierra-at-Tahoe during our ski vacation this past weekend. I incorporated some previous pieces from the trip we took three weeks earlier, and all told it came out to about 35 minutes of fully edited and (hopefully) watchable video, with music and sound effects and fades and titles and transitions.

I'd never worked with iMovie before I got my camcorder for my birthday (Lance, Drew, Dusty-- you guys rock!)-- well, except to do that stupid little "All Your Base" parody with Star Trek clips, which is definitely not what iMovie is primarily designed for. I'd always just sort of had it sitting there on my computer, languishing, gathering pixel dust. Movie-making just seemed to be sort of pointless-- too middle-American for me, or something. Too "trendy" rather than "geeky", like cell phones and pagers, as Chris puts it.

But now that I've tried it and seen how it all works, I understand.

The last time I spent any significant time with home videos was when my family's Sony Handycam traveled with us on every vacation, to every Little League game, to every band concert-- and because it was one of those rogue 8mm cameras, using those little tapes that wouldn't play directly in your VCR (unlike the rest of the world, who used giant shoulder-mounted VHS camcorders), I was pressed into service like the 13-year-old geek-who-wouldn't-be-left-out-of-any-technological-challenge I was. I took it upon myself to copy the 8mm tapes onto VHS so we could watch them, or alternately to set up the camcorder so it could be used for direct playback (when we got tired of making VHS copies, watching them once, and then having them sit in the cabinet forever).

Going back still further, the first time the Tiemanns did video at all was when I was ten, in 1986-- my parents rented a camcorder (hah!) to tape my birthday party. Why the Krabappel-esque "hah"? Weeeeell, because the "camcorder" consisted of a more-or-less full-sized VCR (and remember, this was back when VCRs would have a hard time fitting into 19-inch server racks) in a padded shoulder-bag, connected via RCA cables to the "camera" attachment-- it looked like a little hairdryer. It was really just a hand-grip, some controls, and a lens assembly; the video recording stuff was all handled in the giant box slung over your shoulder. Talk about state-of-the-art! We recorded our house, just pointless little shots of nothing in particular-- and I fondly remember how the phone rang while we were taping, and so later when we were playing it back, we heard the phone ring and someone jumped up to get it. Wooow! I guess the audio was really something-- or else it was just culture shock, like when the Roanoak Indians first saw the British settlers drawing portraits of them. It's evil, I tells ya! Eeeeevil!

And then we watched Flight of the Navigator and Pee-Wee's Playhouse.

Oh yeah, fast-forward. The Handycam, which we bought two or three years later, was an amazing leap forward in technology. Not only was it a single, hand-held unit-- but unlike those VHS cameras, it could be literally held up by one hand, rather than balanced on a shoulder. It had a big carrying case, but the camera could be concealed under a jacket (if you were skinny and the jacket had been stolen from Fat Albert). The hand-grip doubled as the container for the fist-sized battery, which slid into it and locked into place with a satisfying snick-- and then the hand-grip piece clicked onto the body of the camera. I loved that. I thought it was ingenious. And I dreamed of a day when the hand-grip piece would be all there was to the camera-- when camcorders would be that impossibly small.

Well, that day is here, with the advent of digital-video camcorders, their teeny-tiny little DV tapes, and their Tic-Tac-box-sized Li-ion batteries, their flip-out LCD panels, and the general miniaturization of pretty much everything. The Canon ZR20 that I have is sort of the bottom-end of consumer camcorders, but it's pretty sweet nonetheless-- it has more features than I can shake a stick at, takes very nice-looking video, and-- as I'm finding more and more each day-- lets me do more things than I had ever considered to be compelling.

See, with the Handycam, all the video went straight to tape. There was no "editing". There wasn't a really good way to do it, not with analog tapes. Unless you had a multiple-deck VCR with a high-precision manual jog, so you could stitch clips together while attempting to minimize those screenfuls of jagged snowy lines that marked every scene transition, it really wasn't possible to cut out footage you didn't want or add audio tracks or (unheard-of!) apply transitions or video effects. And even if you did have such equipment, you'd still be making second- and third-generation copies of the analog signal, degrading it and the tapes (both source and destination) at the same time. So we just sort of tried to edit while we taped-- only recording what we thought looked important at the time. And I'm sure it forced us to become better video photographers, but still it was pretty miserable. It just wasn't worth the hassle to try to do it the "right" way.

But today... well, everything's different in Digital Land. First of all, the signal doesn't degrade when you transfer it. It's digital. So you can import the video from the camera, edit it, print it back to camera, import it again, edit it more-- it doesn't lose any clarity. The tapes still eventually wear out, which is a shame (tape technology has come a long way, and tapes still hold butt-loads more data than any other medium, but they still do degrade after a certain amount of use). But that takes a lot of use before it happens, and in the meantime the picture is archival-clear, high-resolution, and devoid of all those stupid horizontal white streaks that always crackled across the screen on tapes shot on our Handycam. Remember those, Mom?

It gets better. It gets so much better. You record footage with wild abandon, because the battery lasts forever, the camera fits into an inner coat pocket, and it turns on in a snap. For crying-out-loud, I was taping all weekend while skiing-- holding my poles in one hand and keeping the camera pointed downhill with the other as I swooshed down Intermediate slopes with ice patches and moguls. If I'd tried that with the Handycam, I'd have lost my balance and smashed the camera open on a rock before we even got off the bunny hill. And each time you record a new clip-- this part I just love-- it marks the scene transition on the tape, along with the other digital information (like when it was recorded, under what conditions, etc.) ...so that when you import it into "your video editing program" (--okay, who are we kidding-- into iMovie), it automatically senses when each shot begins and creates a new clip in your palette. So after you've come home, rewound the tape, plugged in the FireWire cable (sorry, USB2.0, the industry's entrenched already-- nyah!), and pressed Import, your only remaining step is to wait until it's finished dumping the data into the computer. It's not just a single continuous data stream, it's what amounts to a self-contained DV file for each time you've pressed Record. And they're all there, ready for you to start dragging them into the timeline and making a movie.

You could just take all the clips, put them in order, and say you're done. You could. But why? It's such a simple matter to throw out clips you don't want, to split clips into smaller chunks so you can edit out pieces that don't "watch well", to put them in a different order-- and that's just for starters. Want to add an audio track? Grab an MP3 and drag it into the audio channel. Then slide the begin and end tabs so it matches up with the video, and use checkboxes to fade it in and/or out and adjust the relative volume. Pin it to the video at a certain point so it doesn't lose its position if you rearrange the video. Want to cross-fade two clips? Go to the list of Transitions, grab the Cross-Fade one, and drag it between the two clips and let it render for a few seconds. And that's it. Titles? Same deal-- select the format for how they'll appear, type in your text, and drag it into place.

Oh, and incidentally, Apple has provided about 1.3GB of music clips from FreePlay, public-domain music for all purposes that's been pre-cut into 15, 20, 30, 60, and 120-second clips (each fully realized with intros and endings, not just chopped to fit). There are genres like "Sports Extreme", "Washingtonian", "Acid Jazz", "Hard Rock", and "World Music"-- each volume with as many as dozens of really good themes. Apple has put it on everybody's iDisk so they can download the clips and put 'em into their iMovies. I did, and now my skiing video has an almost continuous soundtrack. Picking out the perfect music for a particular piece of video is one of the most sublime joys of the editing process-- especially the fact that when you drop it in, it simply blends the music with whatever audio track and sound effects are already there, whether in the other audio channel or embedded into the video itself. No need to worry about audio getting inadvertently lost or replaced-- it just works.

Then, when you're done, export it back to the camera (which it handles just about as seamlessly and unconfusingly as you could want) so you can hook it up to a TV and show your grandparents. Or export it to a QuickTime movie using any of the ~20 available codecs. (A 15-minute video using Sorensen 3 at Low quality, which is really very watchable, comes out to about 40MB.) Or export it as a pristine-quality DV file, suitable for taking into iDVD and burning onto a disc for your family.

It's not like this is just an evolutionary change in how home video works. This is such an astronomical leap in what the home user is able to do that the entire concept of video editing is all new to most people. (It certainly was to me.) My preconceptions made me think of wrestling with cables, pushing little buttons with split-second timing, guessing a lot, and hoping a lot. But it's nothing like that. It's more like making a picture in Painter: all the tedious crap like mixing colors, managing transparency, handling layers, and developing the brush tools you need is all done for you, so 100% of your time is spent in being artistic.

Now, let's compare this with Windows Movie Maker, or whatever other options are available on the PC. First off, WMM doesn't seem to allow you to export video back to the camera-- only to WMV format. It doesn't allow lossless editing-- if you make a change to a clip, it's permanent. You can't back it out and go back to the original media, like you can with iMovie. If you render a title or transition, there's no going back. Because Windows can't guarantee that you'll have FireWire, it bases its assumptions around USB-- which means everything is slow, clunky, redundant, and error-prone. (I doubt you can use the playback-control buttons in WMM to control the camera itself, like you can in iMovie.) It has a time line and a scrubber bar and a clip palette and a viewing window, just like iMovie-- but it's so obviously an bad attempt at checkbox-ism that those reviewers who have looked at it in any detail have dismissed it out of hand rather than bothering to describe it (see David Coursey's take on it at ZDNet for an example). It's enough to make the "Designed for Windows XP" badge on the ZR20 product page look just that much more like the shameless piece of meaningless Microsoft-sponsored propaganda that it is.

And further, take this account in the Houston Chronicle (it's where the link waaaay up at the top of this post goes):

Now allow me to reintroduce my neighbor, Dave (not his real name), whom you first met in my Sept. 22, 2000, column.

When my neighbor saw my iMovies, he immediately ordered a board and software that he said would let him do that on his PC. I told him he should get a Mac. A month ago I asked him how his moviemaking was coming. He looked properly chagrined as he said, "I haven't figured out how to make it work yet."

I lent him the new iMac for a few days and issued a challenge. Since he still, 18 months later, had not completed a single movie project on his Dell, I told him to try making a movie, an audio CD and a DVD on this iMac. And to make things interesting, I offered him no assistance or support -- I told him to look in Mac Help if he had questions.

Three days later I interviewed Dave.

On the first day, he unpacked the iMac, set it up in five minutes and burned two audio CDs with iTunes. He said he never needed to refer to Mac Help and that this whole project was "no problem whatsoever."

On the second day, he used iDVD to create a pair of slide shows using existing digital photos and burned his first DVD. I watched it later, and it didn't stink. In fact, most people would no doubt find it impressive. (I'm so jaded.)

On the third day, he borrowed my Canon ZR-25 camcorder and a tape of my son's last basketball game. I handed him the camera, manual and FireWire cable, and told him he was own his own.

By the end of the day he had imported raw footage into iMovie, edited it, added music and titles, then burned it onto a DVD with iDVD.

As I scribbled furiously, Dave's long-suffering wife added, "He swore less at the Mac than he does at his Dell."

Dave then said he had created more multimedia in three days with the iMac than he had in 18 months with his Dell. He only opened the Help file a couple of times. He concluded, "The hardest part was getting the iMac back in the box."

Before departing I asked if he'd consider a Mac next time. He replied: "Absolutely. In fact, if we hadn't wasted so much money trying to transform that Dell into a multimedia computer, I'd get one today."

And we're hearing more and more of these kinds of testimonials. All it takes is for someone to try it, and their preconceptions that "a computer is a computer" evaporate. I don't know what brainstorm it was in Steve Jobs' cranium several years ago to invest so heavily in making the Mac into the premier multimedia editing platform, back before such things had even been considered for the consumer market, but it's paid off mega-big-time. It's certainly saved the Mac from extinction-- it's kept Apple ahead of the pack.

And anybody who hears about video editing and says "Who would ever want to do that?" simply has not tried it. Or has not tried it on a Mac.
Thursday, March 28, 2002
11:57 - Ahh, a kindred spirit.


Yeah, this was me as a high school senior. Boy, I'm glad I'm not the only one.

(Although I hope it's not the "track and field" part that he's cheering about. Hmm... now that I think about it, that probably is what he means. In which case, never mind.)

10:10 - Watch out, Pixar-- you're being outdone at your own game!


It seems Apple and Pixar aren't the only ones who think the new iMac makes for an outstanding CG animation character-- and judging by the number of people jumping on the bandwagon, and the quality of the bandwagon they're jumping on, pretty soon it'll be more famous on the screen than its uncle Luxo.

Click Grafix, a Malaysian animation company with a soft spot for LightWave 3D, has done a really cute 1-minute spot called "iBeach", showing a bunch of happy iMacs playing Limbo on the beach. It's very silly, very fun, and very much worth the download.

Somehow I suspect this isn't the last such movie we'll be seeing featuring the iMac, either. (I'm starting to really hope that its production code name turns out to be "Luxo".)
Wednesday, March 27, 2002
01:46 - Packaging Worship, Revisited


Boy, Wired is Mac-happy these days. Just a couple of weeks ago I talked about their article on "unpacking parties" for new iMacs and other Apple equipment-- photo sessions by candlelight with groups of friends watching agog, and the glossy boxes being saved purely for sentimental value.

Well, here's another in the same vein: an original 1984 Macintosh box that just went for over $500 on eBay.

Look at those box graphics, incidentally. This is long before they started using the now-standard PR-photo-against-white glossy boxes; this is in their Apple ][ era when their box designs and user-manual graphics used this sparse, hand-drawn shorthand style. Kinda cool, and it wouldn't look completely alien even today-- but man, it's a blast from the past.

But the "Macintosh" font is exactly the same now as it always was... and I've always found that very comforting. Apple Garamond. Good ol' Apple Garamond.

01:30 - Your Honor, he wanted killin'.

Okay-- there are always extenuating circumstances, there are always multiple sides to a story. There is always a case to be made for "The other guy's opinions and traditions are just as valid as your own" (so frequently heard regarding cultures like Iran and Talibanian Afghanistan, at least before September). But sometimes you just run across something wherein you realize that some vapor-brained waste of skin is just itching to be made an example of.

The computer whiz then asked the court to identify the plaintiff in the case. Ware explained that the United States was the plaintiff, and was represented by assistant U.S. attorney Ross Nadel. Heckenkamp said he wanted to subpoena Nadel's "client" to appear in court, and Ware asked him who, exactly, he wanted to bring into the courtroom.

When Heckenkamp replied, "The United States of America," Ware ordered him taken into custody.

"The comments that you are making to the court lead me to suspect that either you are playing games with the court, or you're experiencing a serious lack of judgment," said Ware. The judge added that he was no longer satisfied that Heckenkamp would make his future court appearances.

Heckenkamp had been free on $50,000 bail, and living under electronic monitoring -- prohibited by court order from using cell phones, the Internet, computers, video games and fax machines.

Before two deputy U.S. marshals hauled Heckenkamp away, he threatened legal action against the judge. "I will hold you personally liable," he said. "I will seek damages for every hour that I'm in custody."

This, as far as I'm concerned, is why hackers ('scuse me, crackers) need to have their arms pulled out slowly by tractors. These kids think they're invincible, that they're way too clever for anyone to do anything to them, that nobody would dare touch them. This contemptible little turd needs to be put up on that bench and had his "guilty" sentence read loud and proud on national TV, with a nice close-up on his face, so everybody can see just what can happen if you think it's a game to go making life miserable for overworked site admins at high-profile commercial websites.

If only we could, wouldn't we throw the book at hurricanes and floods and earthquakes for all the damage they do? We have to budget for them and buy insurance policies to cover them, because we can't do a thing to control them. We also have to budget for and insure ourselves against hackers, and yet we can control them. They're not a natural disaster, they're people. And that means they can be caught and punished.

I just want to see one of these kids' cocky little asses worked over with a potato peeler and a bag of rock salt, and photos of the results posted to every newsgroup and mischief-making web forum on the net. The fear of God is a wonderful thing, especially when put into someone who has no concept of it.

20:44 - Boy, they sure can name them landfills...

From the "Periscope" section of the March 25 Newsweek:

New York City was planning to release hundreds of vehicles recovered from the WTC area beginning Monday. In recent weeks, city officials sent owners and insurance companies a letter about how to retrieve the cars from the Fresh Kills landfill...

Blink. Wow... especially considering how later in the column it talks about how body parts such as arms, legs, and ribcages were found in the cars, this just seems like serendipity coming home to roost.

More and more I'm thinking that Americans just don't know how to name things properly. (Let's be more like the Brits, with place names like Okeford Fitzpaine-- pronounced "Fippeny Ockford". Or like the Aussies!) And when we do come up with names that pull us up short, it's stuff like this.

Didn't it occur to whoever was in charge of the operation of discarding the vehicles that someone might one day cover that fact in an article? And that this is how it would sound? Ye gods.

18:16 - The Pod People are multiplying...!


The iPod population of my company doubled over the weekend. (Only a couple weeks ago it had doubled for the first time-- from one to two.) Kris bought one, and so did John, our Web marketing guy. They ordered the devices on Friday, and they were waiting in the entry foyer on Monday.

John is in his 50s, and remarkably with-it when it comes to geek stuff. He analyzes things until those listening to him start to get short on breath just absorbing everything he's saying. He's been waffling back and forth lately between the iPod and SonicBlue's Rio Riot-- he had a Riot on order, in fact, and canceled it while it was still pending shipment so he could study the differences still further and pick my brain as to the potential of his proposed setup: a 60GB USB external hard drive plugged into his daughter's iMac, full of songs which he would organize through iTunes (only when the drive is plugged in, natch), and the iPod plugged in the other end. I couldn't see any good reason why that wouldn't work. But he still wasn't entirely convinced-- after all, the Riot has a 20GB drive, works with Windows (his primary platform), etc, etc. It's big, but he says he would just keep it on his desk like a radio. It's USB, so filling up 20GB would take forever, but he says he would just fill it up once and then never need to swap files on or off it, so that's no big deal. Would the iPod handle hierarchical playlists, so instructional CDs showing multiple versions of the same song could be grouped usefully? And so it went.

Everybody was waiting to hear the Macworld Tokyo keynote, to see if the iPod would get a price reduction (to $299) or anything. Well, it didn't-- and if I may editorialize for a moment (as though that's not all I do here), that's fine. They sold 125,000 units in two months, and so there's no need to lower the price, is there? Keeping the price at $400 through the Christmas season probably netted them a huge cash windfall which they could use to build up the rest of the company, and since they still have to fight to keep the things on shelves, why lower the price? The supply/demand curves put the optimal price point right where it is-- lowering the price would get some more demand, yes, but probably not enough to offset the profit they would have made on that extra $100 per unit that they're getting at the current price. So, smart move, Fred Anderson-- and I'll bet the Japanese market will just gobble up the new engraving option (which is specifically aimed at Japan-- where the Macworld attendees gave a standing ovation at the news of the option). They know exactly what they're doing.

So anyway, the iPods came in on Monday, and both Kris and John seem happy as clams with theirs. Yesterday, in fact, John came around to our cubicles to fling a grin in all directions and talk about how well XPlay works, even in its alpha state. (He's decided that he will use his iPod with his Windows 2000 machine, running XPlay, storing the songs on a new 120GB USB2.0 drive.) "You plug in the iPod, and XPlay opens it up like a hard drive-- it has folders for Playlists, Songs, Artists... I just dragged in some songs, and it worked. Flawless." He couldn't say enough good about it. It may just be the buyer-of-expensive-toy justification mindset, but he certainly seemed glad he hadn't gone with the Riot after all.

The infiltration continues...

14:41 - Okay, that's pretty funny-- I think...

Oh goodie! A piece of parody buzz about OS X.

I have some "inside information" about the next release of the Macintosh operating system. It will be called "Mac OS Y," and will reach an unprecedented level of irrelevance. In true Apple style-over-substance, you will be able to choose between fifteen different "essences," nee "flavors," and the system will require 1GB of RAM for baseline performance, and 10GB of disk space (not including the moderate extra space required to install the optional developer tools). It will be distributed on 4 DVD-ROMs and will require that you reformat your hard disk prior to installation, before dumping a heretofore unheard of sixty-nine million files, randomly fragmented about your disk. Icons will be a whopping 1024x1024 pixels in detail, and are rendered in stunning 128-bit color. A 23" display will be recommended to view a single page of text. "Small screens are a thing of the past," company CEO Steve Jobs claims.

Er, okay... I guess I'm always glad to see parody happening, because it means OS X is in the public eye. Just like I'm glad to see new Mac viruses come out, because it means Macs represent a legitimate target. But... what exactly is this guy complaining about? The fact that the OS looks nice? That it has an open-source foundation? That it has UNIX in it? That it ships with a development environment descended from the NeXTSTEP tools, widely regarded as some of the best the industry has ever seen? That it's shipped on a CD instead of floppies? Is he dissatisfied with the fact that installing OS X (rather miraculously) does not make you reformat your disk, and in fact lets you boot smoothly from one OS to another? Or that all its system files are kept neatly together in a single hierarchical folder?

Why can't people make up their mind about what's important? Is UI customizability desirable, or is it "style over substance"? And has nobody noticed that Macs haven't come in "flavors" for like two years now?

It's awfully hard, sometimes, to tell when someone has a genuine satirical point to make, and when they're simply bitching pointlessly. I can't find the little gem in this article that would send me into a self-effacing, bemused giggle at my own expense, and I can't seem to deduce what sort of OS would make the writer happy, so I'm inclined to imagine it's the latter.

14:22 - Just read the cue cards...

Just the other day, I heard another radio ad where the announcer was trying gamely to read off a URL. "Just go to UsedCarBucks dot com, backslash SpecialOffer..."

Why do so many people seem to labor under the assumption that "/" is a backslash? Is it because they were around in the 80s when everything in DOS was based on backslashes, and they assume that, well, now it's the same-- it's all just computer stuff-- it's just that you're typing it into a web browser now instead of a command line?

The fact that URLs contain slashes as path delimiters (that's forward slashes, everybody, in case there's any confusion in your mind-- they tilt forward, along the same direction that the text is going-- left to right; backslashes tilt backwards, back the way the text came) is one of the most visible inroads that UNIX has made into the everyday desktop world. UNIX uses forward slashes as path delimiters, for instance /usr/local/bin/pico. Since the Web began on UNIX, URLs were designed to follow UNIX conventions rather than DOS conventions; if Microsoft had invented the Web, you can bet that URLs would look like http:\\www.whatever.com\.

But whatever the history, it still bugs me no end when I hear people reading URLs over the radio who have obviously somehow never encountered one before. I'm reminded of one particularly egregious example that I heard on KCBS back in 1996 or so. An oldish-sounding guy, speaking slowly and painstakingly, launched off as follows: "Aitch tee, tee pee... semicolon, backslash, backslash... double-you, double-you, double-you..." Aaaaaaugh! I was squirming in my seat before he got to the "w"s. First of all: You don't need to say the "HTTP" part. It's assumed these days-- browsers tack it on by default. And then, it's a colon, not a semicolon! And then they're forward slashes! Blaaah! I mean, his deliberate, reptilian delivery of the words was bad enough-- he was saying parts of the URL that shouldn't need to be said, and only served to waste precious expensive seconds of airtime. I could understand it if he were taking his time because it was a complex URL that he wanted to make sure people heard clearly, but it wasn't! He was just bewildered by these weird symbols in front of him, assuming his listeners were similarly clueless and copying down each letter with a piece of chalk on a little slate, tongue protruding in concentration from the corners of their mouths. But that wasn't even the worst part! He was taking his time, making sure everybody got every last little detail right-- and then he got the details wrong! I guess you can assume that people will be able to just go by what they remember visually as being the proper parts of a URL, but ":" is a colon, not a semicolon, and "/" is a slash, not a backslash. I was seized with mental images of people on AOL uncertainly hunting-and-pecking their way through typing "H T T P ;\\ www...".

These days, of course, things are much better. Websites are designed so you can find current special promotions and important resources directly from the main page, so you only have to add two syllables to the name of your company in order to get the point across. "Visit us on the Web at Megaflicks dot com!" But we still hear the occasional ad where the announcer confidently tells us to type semicolons and backslashes, in what's apparently some bastardized Microsoft Web protocol that's made deliberately incompatible with every browser that only handles http:// style.

(Like how MSIE will render a table even if there's no </TABLE> tag, and so people write sloppy HTML without balanced tags because "Hey, it works in MSIE!"... and then they grouse about Netscape because it (correctly!) does not render the table. So now we have web designers all over the world who have effectively written Netscape users out of the picture simply because they're too lazy to write proper HTML, and they get away with it because of a bug in the only browser they test in, so they don't even know they're doing anything wrong. Of course it must be someone else's fault.)

So anyway, back to the delimiters. A few months ago, Kris and I were talking about how every operating system had its own path delimiter character. DOS/Windows uses the backslash (\), UNIX uses the forward slash (/), classic MacOS uses the colon (:), and so on. To solve all this confusion, we jotted down a proposal for the Universal Delimiter:

It could be used in filesystem paths, in URLs, wherever a hierarchy needs to be described-- and it would be portable from platform to platform.

We called it the Blair Witch. "Aitch tee tee pee colon blair witch blair witch..."

10:06 - A Call to Arms

Well, everybody else is linking to this, and with good reason, so I'd better do the same.

1. Do you care if a few giant companies control virtually all entertainment and information?

2. Do you care if they decide what kinds of technological innovations will reach the marketplace?

3. Would you be concerned if they used their power to compile detailed dossiers on everything you read, listen to, view and buy?

4. Would you find it acceptable if they could decide whether what you write and say could be seen and heard by others?

Those are no longer theoretical questions. They are the direction in which America is hurtling.

Media conglomerates are in a merger frenzy. Telecommunications monopolies are creating a cozy cartel, dividing up access to the online world. The entertainment industry is pushing for Draconian controls on the use and dissemination of digital information.

If you're not infuriated by these related trends, you should at least be worried. If you're neither, stop reading this column. You're a sheep, content to be herded wherever these giants wish.

But if you want to retain some fundamental rights over the information you use and create, please take a stand. Do it soon, because a great deal is at stake.

I hope you're among the latter. I also hope you're willing to take a little time, as I will be doing, to call and/or write your representatives and try to convey just how evil they're being-- how not one sane consumer would be in favor of this act, and how it only serves corporations, and only in a psychological or punitive sense (they want to stick it to the users, regardless of whether their financial woes can be traced to piracy or not, which it can't). And with all the money that the media sector is flinging into Congress right now (now including Saban), we're right on the edge of an entire industry's rights being legislated by the corporations themselves. When enough money flows, any integrity that the lawmakers ever had gets flushed down the storm sewer.

Doesn't anybody in Washington have the guts to stand up in the face of all these millions of dollars and the inevitable Media Mafia and say "Enough! I represent the people!"?

We can only hope so, and try to make them see how important this is. Because there's just one thing we hold over them, of which we can assure them: Not one Senator who votes for the SSSCA (or whatever it's called now) will be re-elected.

It's shutting the barn door too late, I know, but it's the only power we as voters have.

09:30 - LotR DVD News


Wheee! Official news about the DVD releas of Lord of the Rings. Wait, excuse me-- releases.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring will be released in no less than four versions this year. On 8/6, separate widescreen and pan & scan versions will be released, each a two-disc set with identical extra features. Disc one includes the film presented in English Dolby Digital Surround EX and Dolby 2.0 surround (sorry, no DTS). Disc two is where all the goodies are at, and retail will be $29.95 for either the pan & scan or widescreen editions.

Then, on 11/12, New Line will release a mega four-disc set, with a new extended cut of the film created by Peter Jackson himself, and featuring over 30 minutes of additional footage. This cut of the film will be Rated R due to some extended violence, and no retail price has yet been set for this release. The now nearly four-hour film will be spread over the first two discs and presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen (alas, no sound format information is yet available.) Unfortunately, all the supplements for the 4-disc set are still in production, so final details were not revealed. However, the disc is planned to include 3 audio commentaries and another four hours of bonus material. It is also not yet known if all the features on the "standard" two-disc set edition will also be included here.

And that's not all, either. There's talk of a gift set of the latter release, and even a fifth release later with all the releases in one box. Boy, they're planning a full-court press on the merchandising-- and they'll be richly rewarded for it, I'm sure.

It's interesting that they're announcing all these versions so far in advance. They say they'll be releasing one "normal" version, and then that there will be a better one a few months later. So who would buy the first set? (People like me, that's who.)

But then, maybe I'm used to Apple's marketing tactics-- the extreme secrecy above all else. This is sort of a welcome contrast. It'll certainly fill up the waiting time before December...
Tuesday, March 26, 2002
02:22 - Gallows Humor: Corporate Schadenfreude

These days it's not just fuckedcompany.com who have their antennae out for corporate blunders to point at gleefully from the sanctuary of a website that has actual funding. While the aforementioned site was doing so long before the dot-com bubble burst, making fun of stupid decisions made during that era is now the Sport of Kings. Witness this fun article at Business 2.0, "The 101 Dumbest Moments in Business":

3. Banana Republic co-founders Mel and Patricia Ziegler start ZoZa, an "athletic formalwear" retailer, in late 2000. Mel says he expects sales to reach $1 billion within seven years. Gary Rieschel of Softbank Venture Capital invests $16.5 million, telling BusinessWeek, "If you have guts and you have capital, how can you not be optimistic about the consumer market?" Here's how: ZoZa's designers revamp its spring 2001 line, intentionally making their dresses two sizes smaller than labeled. Even the svelte are outraged, and ZoZa's merchandise return rate soars to 80 percent. The company shuts down in May 2001, proving that, if the dress doesn't fit, you must, uh, quit.

7. Last May, Citizens Against Government Waste, a group that received funding from Microsoft (MSFT), is caught simulating a "grassroots" campaign to get state attorneys general to drop their antitrust suit against the software giant. One detail that gives the scheme away: Some of the letters supporting Microsoft are from people who have long since died.

60. Washing Off the Stench of Death, Part 1: Philip Morris (MO) proposes changing its name to Altria, presumably to escape the taint of its tobacco-producing past. It does not, however, stop producing tobacco, which does not stop causing cancer.

61. Washing Off the Stench of Death, Part 2: Making matters even more awkward, the name Altria turns out to be already taken by Altria Healthcare, a firm based in Birmingham, Ala., that is not especially pleased to be linked to a noted producer of poor health.

... And 97 more. Lots of fun.

02:12 - Yeah, that would explain a lot...

One of the problems with not having my blog available for a protracted period is that lots and lots of people will all forward me a URL that they know I'd enjoy reading-- and they're right, too, except that it gets a tad less enjoyable each time I'm directed to read it.

The Mac Bong, or iBong, is made from a water-filled bong mounted inside an old Mac SE 30. The bowl of the bong protrudes from the front of the computer, just below the screen. The mouthpiece sticks out the back.
"My bong burnt bright," he wrote, "electrifying fractals dancing in the raging embers, smoke curling like a halo around my bowed and fatal head.... The restlessness of a millennium's solitude soared through my rushing blood, the roar of being alive skipping like a jumping spark through my brain."

See, if they'd made a bong out of a current iMac, the hallucinations would have looked like iTunes visuals. What they've really done is created an OS X emulator for the Mac SE/30.

(By the way, Kris assures everyone in earshot that the story of Apple's vaunted drug culture holds about as much water as this bong does.)

01:41 - Well, good-- that's half a victory...

Well, here's a piece of good news:

The Internet Streaming Media Alliance (ISMA) today announced its enthusiastic support for the MPEG-4 Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) licensing models recently introduced by Dolby Laboratories. In contrast to the proposed terms for the MPEG-4 Visual license, the approach of the MPEG-4 AAC licensors does not involve royalties on the distribution of audio compressed in the MPEG-4 AAC format.

Hallelujah. So the audio part of MPEG-4 is going to be licensed freely without royalties. But there's still apparently no indication that the video part of MPEG-4 is any closer to a similar agreement, and that will be a prerequisite for the release of QuickTime 6...

But this is still encouraging. If the same execs are in charge of the video part of the codec as the audio part, this thing might actually see daylight. Fingers crossed...

17:50 - The thing is, is that...

Those who know me well are aware that I have a certain... shall we say, sensitivity to various verbal habits and language quirks. (Hey, Chris: Base!) Yeah, "basically" really sticks in my craw, and I've always managed to feel personally offended by "alot" and "alright"-- largely because my teachers spent so many thankless and fruitless hours during my childhood trying to get my classmates to stop using them. But now when even Toyota runs ads with the word "everyday" used as an adverb (as in, "Eat three meals everyday!"), I find myself part of a beleaguered minority who cares for the language as taught in the style manuals.

But there's one thing that I just can't abide, something that has become more and more prevalent lately: the "double is". You know. You've heard it. "The thing is, is that..."

Last Sunday, as I was leaving work after rolling-over the new server and restoring all the services and hoping they'd be okay through the night, NPR with Weekend All Things Considered was on my radio. They were talking about courtesans. Veronica Franco, European politics, and all that. Interesting topic (Dangerous Beauty is a favorite film of mine). But it was wrapping up as I pulled into a gas station to fill up for the drive home.

When I got back into the car and turned on the engine, the first thing-- the VERY FIRST THING-- out of my radio was "The thing is, is!" Aauugh! Oh, but wait: the host and the guest were both saying it, back and forth at each other, laughing. What is this? Ahh, it becomes clear to me: it's a segment called "Language Pet Peeves", and this time "The thing is, is" was their subject.

A caller had brought to the host's attention this little habit, and was assured by the show's resident "verbavore" Richard Lederer that this was not acceptable usage. The caller could rest assured that such a quirk should never be used in writing, and should be frowned upon in speech. He did, however, offer a well-reasoned explanation for why people do it (they treat "the thing is" as one unit of thought, put it behind them, and then move on to the next unit, which is "is that..."), an explanation that pretty much matched my own. In any case, I felt vindicated and happy as I drove home. Pity I hadn't been able to record it, though. Ah well.

Later that night, Chris called up for a squash game. We went in to the gym at about 11:00 PM, played exuberantly for about two hours, and then sat out in the parking lot regaining our breath and talking aimlessly about our respective servers and the tribulations involved in running them. Finally, at about 12:45, we got in our cars to go home.

As my engine revved to life, what do I hear coming out of my radio but-- Courtesans!

Aaaaah! It's the repeat loop of the same show! If I race home at top speed, I might be able to record the Language Pet Peeves segment! I stomp on the pedal, screech out of the parking lot, and spiral my way onto the freeway-- they're talking about how courtesans influenced European politics. Over the giant off-ramp, down the edge of 101 onto the Capitol Expressway exit, and they're talking about Veronica Franco. Down onto surface streets, past the high school, up onto Nieman, and Language Pet Peeves is starting. No matter-- the bit I want is a few minutes in. I skid into our driveway as they're announcing the verbavore. I race upstairs. I dive into my bag of old cassette tapes, and I find an unlabeled, pristine-looking one. Throw it into my stereo, tune the FM station-- c'mon, can't it seek faster than that?-- and land on NPR. And the first thing I hear?

"The thing is, is...! Ha ha haah!"

Nooooooo! I collapse in despair onto the bed. My shining opportunity to enshrine, like a lock of gold from the head of Galadriel, a testimonial to my need for sanity-- gone! It was with a heavy heart that I fell asleep that night, and my dreams were troubled by my elementary-school classmates all saying "heighth" and "nucular" and "alright" and "basically" as they stood in a circle, jeering, flinging dictionaries at my huddled and miserable form.

But then, the next day, I discovered, much to my delight, that NPR thoughtfully provides all their Weekend All Things Considered shows in RealAudio-- both as complete shows and in segments. And there it is, that Language Pet Peeves section, right there for the download. It's the link at the top of this entry. Go on, click it.

I won't let an evening of pointless wasted effort stand in the way of my making a fool of myself.

17:13 - Ooooh. Naaasty.

Look, look! "ProAudio" has been released. This one is designed specifically to foil "Macs, DVD players, and CD-compatible video game consoles" from playing the discs or ripping their contents.

Interesting decision, there. I guess the record labels really are serious in thinking that it's those big nasty Macs that are the root cause of all this piracy nonsense; after all, they're the ones with the "Rip, Mix, Burn" slogan! Why can't they be more like Windows users, who as we all know have never ripped a CD or shared an illicit MP3 in their lives? Pure as the driven snow, they are.

Oh, and this article is a direct response to the "Macs can't rip this music" challenge: it calls upon Mac users everywhere to rise up and crack the scheme. When they do, up goes this cute little badge.

I'd contribute my efforts, except it would involve me first giving money to the people purveying this new format. And that's something I'll never do.

16:54 - Al Fasoldt Likes OS X

Another highly visible convert:

But Macs have changed. They're still cute, in a modern-art sort of way, but they have a new software engine under the hood. The operating system is tried-and-true Unix with the kind of multitasking that would make an octopus jealous, and the hardware is so fast that some operations get finished before they're started.
   Well, almost. I'm getting carried away. But it's all for a good reason. For the first time in years, I'm madly in love with a computer. I bought a Macintosh dual-processor G4 computer -- the one with two 1-gigahertz processors and a built-in DVD burner -- a few weeks ago and haven't stopped raving about it yet. I'm driving my wife crazy, my cat hides when he sees me coming and my parrot is quickly learning how to repeat "This is amazing!" three times without taking a breath.

Boy, this is starting to get monotonous. More and more people are discovering what kind of computing is available to you if you're willing to outlay a couple thou, and they're tripping all over themselves trying to get the word out. Grass-roots adoption is riding high, from the look of it.

This article was even quoted by Apple in its recent-news section. Interesting-- lately I've noticed that Apple is linking to whatever online articles they can find, no matter what the articles' perspective is. In this case, the author is trying desperately-- comically so-- to get you to take him at his word without dismissing it the moment you hear the word "Mac". He pokes at the reputation Apple has for building boxes that are slow or quirky or incapable, and Apple is happily linking to it right out of their own PR pages and thereby tacitly acknowledging their perceived flaws. Pretty gutsy move, if you ask me. Right up there with publicly adopting widely-used fan nicknames like "iApps" and "TiBook", and having copy on their Mac OS X site like "Mac OS X goes out of its way to include everybody (except perhaps aliens from Tau Ceti — they’re mean)."

16:28 - They're being won over, left and right...

Esme Vos, a Dutch intellectual-property lawyer who occasionally writes tech articles, has one example of such here-- one in which she raves about just about every aspect of the iMac-- in stark opposition to the "big, clunky PCs" that her friends and relatives firmly insist are the only way to go if she wishes to avoid regretting her decision.

It's all very positive, the sort of article that makes Mac-heads feel all warm and squishy. But it ends on the following note:

Will the iMac save Apple and Steve Jobs? It’s too early to tell. But then again I’m too busy enjoying my new iMac to worry about that.

Er... well, this begs the question of whether Apple and Steve Jobs need "saving". It's still a common enough refrain for columnists to call Apple "beleaguered" and "troubled" and "doomed". But as I've said before and will undoubtedly say again, Apple is profitable. They're not losing relevance-- PC makers are looking harder at Apple than they ever have since the earliest days, looking to Steve to lead the way. They're very open about this, too-- it's no secret that companies like Dell and Microsoft are content to let the trailblazing be done in Cupertino while they trail by a year or so, because their business plans account for that. So does Apple's. It's a nice symbiotic relationship, that. Nobody's trying to kill anybody off. Not even Microsoft.

I just wish people treated Apple with the respect that people in the car industry treat BMW. Sure, BMW drivers can be assholes, and the cars are too nice for their own good. But nobody ever says that BMWs suck.

16:02 - Boy, that'll make you sit up and take notice...

Scott Boone, a guest columnist at MacNETv2:

From poor support to poor product design to marketspeak promises made and engineering promises gone unfulfilled, Apple seems to care very little about the core market that has sustained it...as though we "don’t get it". What a farce, and what an insult. I think I used to have a common feeling with Apple: they would bring insanely great things to market, understating the genius, expecting the world to see the light, and yet we'd both stand by puzzled when the market couldn't see the brilliance. Now, Apple and I are different: they simply dictate what is brilliant, and ignore the markets ignorance--they don't ask or want my (or my ilk's) opinion in the matter. And if, forbid, you offer one, you are Anti-Apple. And what makes all this worse is their utterly incomprehensible silence---on EVERYTHING. With no "free" support anymore, the online troubleshooting sites have evolved into he said-she said forums where the experts (the code writers themselves) never inform. Apple's Tech Discussions are a joke; a world where Joe Blow without source can espouse "technical voodoo". Is it me, or is the first line Tech Support at Apple merely a human tape player that recites "Okay, let's zap the PRAM. Okay, you'll need to reinstall the system software.” Rinse. Repeat. And I think that OS X is, in and of itself, the proof of the shambles that Apple, as a culture, is in.

I have been writing about OS X and its infrastructure since before Copland. It is probably because I have had, for a VERY long time, a prescient feeling about what I want a computer to do. And college, the engineering education, was the worst thing I did, because it provided me the technical know how (or at least the foundation of the know how) about Operating Systems. John Manzione, in last week’s Op-Ed piece, stated that OS X was "still the best OS ever to be developed for any computer." And he is right...but we need to stop comparing against what WAS and start comparing with what CAN BE. And when doing that, OS X is rather disappointing. OS X embodies just about everything that is wrong with Apple.

Phew, boy... there's some strong talk. Curiously, it's from a guy who lives and breathes Apple, not from a staunch PC user enumerating what makes Apple suck. It's a guy who sees the potential for Apple as being so much more than what they're actually reaching for, and it's driving him nuts.

Apple could have brought fresh new insight to how UNIX looks (metadata, drivers, installers, preferences and configuration), but they haven't, all for this elusive and nebulous concept of "compatibility". Certainly this will be improved, but Apple's silence about the journey is disheartening.

And so it goes... I fear we are a dying breed, the ones who care, the ones who are loyal, the ones who want to make a difference. Everyone else seems to merely want to be spoon-fed, and Apple and the computer and software vendors seem happy to do so. I dread the thought of another 10 years of stagnation in this market...I may go insane.


Apple isn't making it easy to be a fan at the nitty-gritty level these days. They want us to be fans at the presentation level, fans of the out-of-the-box experience, fans of iTunes and iMovie and swiveling LCD panels, not fans of resource forks and metadata and expandability. They don't want us to fixate on the endlessly modifiable UI of MacOS 8; instead, they want us to use Aqua and like it. They don't want us to tweak the Type and Creator codes on files; they want us to apply blanket settings and hide extensions in the name of interoperability when we innocently send JPEGs and Word files to our Windows friends. They don't want us to use WindowShade; they want us to fall in love with the Genie effect. And they communicate this through subtle psychological cues-- through sluggish lack of commitment on certain levels, through silence in published API specs, through gala product launches that mask silent abandonment of support for three-year-old hardware. This isn't the Apple that gives a guy a set of premium tools and then gets out of the way while you do your stuff; this is an Apple that welds your hood shut, to use a hackneyed expression, and would sooner give you a new car rather than tell you how to fix your existing one. Open-source Darwin or not, Apple's attitude recently makes for even more of a closed-shop atmosphere than ever before.

The weird thing is, it's working. I'm a seasoned veteran when it comes to operating systems. I've spent the past 15 years building up a hacker's knowledge of everything from ProDOS to Windows 95 to FreeBSD to Mac OS X, and while in every case before this one I've rigged the system full of cute little shortcuts and home-grown tools for me to use in my daily machinations, in OS X I find myself wanting to follow the prescribed script. I see the path they've laid out for me-- iTunes and the iPod are the total music solution. Don't worry about hardware compatibility, or naming your MP3 files and the folders they go in, or setting up synchronization protocols, or bitrates or metadata or skins or any of that crap-- iTunes will do all that for you. Just think about CDs and music. Put the CD in, and we'll handle the rest. Plug in your iPod, let it sync, unplug it, and go. I could do all kinds of power-user tweakage, but why? They've covered all the bases, and I find that I don't need to go beyond the edges of the path to do what I need done. They don't say a word about their vision, about where they see all this going, beyond what gets said in the PR pages or during the keynote speeches; but somehow, that's okay by me. I just follow the script, and it has yet to fail me.

Lately I've found myself ditching some of my long-held habits, parts of my life that I haven't changed in over five years because I'd never needed to (and because they were still the best way of handling the task in question). Many of my lingering problems with OS X, for instance, arise from my need to use Pine for my mail. Just a few weeks ago, though, I was unwilling to run Classic on my beautiful pristine new iMac at work, just so I could use NiftyTelnet/SSH to get to my Pine terminal as I was accustomed-- so I opened up Mail, configured it for secure IMAP, and now suddenly my primary e-mail account is transformed. I have HTML formatting and rich-text layout and instantly visible attachments. I have folders for mail, and I can move messages between them-- even between accounts-- just by dragging. I have offline reading capability! I have the ability to select who I send mail as. Sure, the HTML spam is annoying and bandwidth-intensive, but hey-- I can now receive Japanese and Korean spam and watch in bemusement as all the gorgeous antialiased Kanji text renders right in the message. No more Telnet windows full of gobbledygook! Sure, it's just as meaningless and destined for the trash can as it used to be, but now I'm following the prescribed path-- and everything is just so much easier. Now I can put my machine to sleep and it won't lose its connection to my mail. I don't have to run Classic at all, except for Photoshop-- which is on its way to me as soon as it ships. I don't even have to grumble about the lack of Command+Click execution of URLs in the Terminal window, because URLs in Mail are hyperlinked already-- like they are in any modern GUI program.

I'm being a Model User, eschewing the power-user hackery that I've always been used to. I guess it's because all the tools I normally have to hack together are already right here for me to use.

Nonetheless, Apple's silence is unnerving-- and it's with no small amount of fretfulness that I immerse myself in the Out-of-the-Box Experience with each new piece of the puzzle that they release; driving all over the Valley with my camera now that I have iPhoto to play with, taking my camcorder skiing with me so I can throw it all into iMovie. It makes me smile ear to ear, but my eyes are still darting back over my shoulder. I still worry that after all this success they could blow it somehow.

If they do, it'll be by alienating all the long-time, die-hard Mac fanatics, the ones who live and breathe the Mac Way, having seen the vision of What Computing Could Be-- only to have that vision snatched away by a modern Apple concerned only with courting the hippest and trendiest modern technogeeks, the ones most easily seduced by the flash of their current product lineup. By organizing the company around developing an army of intensely loyal new fans, fans of a somewhat different "ease of use" ideal than the classical Apple one, they're putting into practice a new strategy, one that isn't likely to appeal to everybody. Here's hoping it brings them success.

It may be that the old ideal, that of a stable and simple foundation with an infinitely hackable presentation layer, is dead. Equally, it might be that we've returned to the original ideal, the one that came before that: the "Computer For the Rest of Us" ideal. Remember that one? The 1984 one? The one that ensnared the original crop of Mac zealots, before they became acolytes to the Immortality of Nostalgic Hardware? Before they became Amiga types?

Apple's silence on these matters, coupled with their tendency towards extreme secrecy on all subjects, plus their string of recent runaway successes in the market, to me suggest that they've got a long-term plan which will only be revealed to us at the rate that Steve sees fit. And if it's anything like what we've seen so far, I'm not too worried. I'll just be standing there with my arms flung wide and my head back, like Kent at the end of Real Genius. Bring on those God Rays!

14:56 - Resentment of Success

Ever wondered why Homer Simpson is so nasty to Ned Flanders, a man who turns every cheek on his body and always goes out of his way to help a guy who'll only kick him for his trouble?

Well, now that we have a real-life case study of exactly this same thing happening on an international and cultural scale, it makes a whole lot more sense.

I've always had success in my life, and so I've never been in Homer's position-- I've never looked with envy upon some rival who garners all the attention and praise and who makes it all the worse by being a nice guy too. So I find it hard to imagine what it must be like; and yet insofar as I can imagine it, I know it must be no picnic. It certainly wouldn't make me feel any better disposed toward such a rival if he offered sanctimoniously to help me out with whatever was getting me down.

Much the same right now. We, the West, are much more prosperous than the Middle East because of our ethos (property, secular rule of law, tolerance, blah blah blah), and they see it and are envious. But like Homer, they make no effort to reflect on themselves, choosing instead to seethe at the success of another and suspect that such success comes at a cost to them. Yet there we are, giving them aid in the Carl Sagan ranges, always willing to offer them a free beer from the keg even if it sometimes is mostly foam. Like Homer, given the chance, they would invite us into their homes on the odd chance they could get away with killing us.

Give this article a read-- it's the kind of thing that makes you blink audibly a few times and nod involuntarily.

It's like some kind of alternate 1984 line: "If there is any hope at all, it is in the blogs..."

14:47 - Cannabis and LSD and hashish are okay-- just stay away from caffeine!


...That is, if you're a spider.

This page is fascinating, though I have no idea what it proves. Presumably that mescaline and LSD don't affect spiders, while caffeine does. So it's not exactly applicable to humans.

Now, what I want to see is a page exactly like this one, only showing web pages spun by geeks on LSD and hashish and caffeine, compared with one by a sober webmaster. Now that would be "making science fun".

14:43 - Gateway validates retail strategies and parking

Hey look-- the Gateway Stores are retooling!

Scuttlebutt is that the "barn" motif and the fact that the stores don't stock any actual inventory is turning out to be less of an inspired brainstorm than someone had apparently originally thought it would be. So now that they've seen Apple's stores take off and their own stores spiral towards doom... well, it's not exactly going out on a limb to try to be more like Apple, huh?

You know how people say "Nobody ever got fired for buying Microsoft"? Well, somewhere up in the strategy layers of companies like Gateway, the slogan is "Nobody ever got fired for imitating Apple."

14:28 - The ubiquitous what drive?

Here's a good Mac story from South Africa-- notable to me primarily because now, thanks to this article, I know what they call 3.5" floppy disks in South Africa.

Y'know, the Commonwealth just seems to have such a way with names...

14:15 - Corporation Reaches Goal, Shuts Down

A nice little surreal romp, thanks (of course) to The Onion. One of those things that makes your brain just sort of lose its footing, like it stepped in a pothole.

"We did it," founder and CEO Michael Dell said. "Back when I started this company, I vowed that I would not rest until we revolutionized the way computers are sold. Well, at long last, that day is here. Bye."

Which, of course, if you let it, raises questions about "What if corporations actually worked like this? What if our entire business landscape was based on the assumption that corporations would work towards a goal, laid out in their mission statements, upon the completion of which the corporation would be disbanded? What if such a thing were viable?"

It probably isn't. After all, corporations' missions do involve ongoing services. But for the ones who have to keep reinventing themselves...

13:57 - PowerBook 2400: Why Apple is Big in Japan


Speaking of Japan, here's a fascinating Wired story about the PowerBook 2400-- Apple's 1997 laptop designed specifically to capture the hearts of the Japanese commuting business public. And that's exactly what it did... far beyond anybody's expectations. The little machine is now the VW Beetle of laptops, constantly souped-up and customized by fanatics paying as much as $25,000 for a used unit. The machine has user groups and fan sites-- take a look at the Japanese site that the Wired article links to that compares the beauty of the 2400's underside to that of dozens of other laptops, by way of proving the aesthetic superiority of the beloved 2400.

See, even before Jobs returned, Apple was pulling surprises like this out of its butt. I wonder what the next such sleeper hit will be...

13:37 - Time-sensitive Documents Enclosed

Steven den Beste weighs in with yet another of his observations on how we, with an ocean between us and the issues (9/11 notwithstanding), continue to treat "peace" in the Middle East as some kind of finish line, a goal that everybody wants just as badly but which is separated from us only by bureaucrats being lazy or playing too much golf or something. We still think it's somehow possible for any of us to stride confidently into Jerusalem, look around at the warring throngs in the street, and yell "HEY! Stop fightin'!" And they'll all stop, look startled, look down with surprise at their clothes and who they're grappling with, and like in Babylon 5: Thirdspace dust themselves off and mutter apologies to each other before going home to their nice houses on opposite sides of the Jordan and watch Survivor.

Well, it's not like that. And from what we've been seeing in the press and the blogosphere lately, the reason is simply that what we have is a clash of two peoples with completely different ideas of what's important.

For the Israelis, it could very well be as easy as described above. If they were dealing with an adversary who acted the way they did, a few high-level summits would be all it took for acceptable boundary lines to be drawn and everybody to be happy.

But the Palestinians don't see things that way. And what strikes me is that the reason is that they don't consider the Intifada to be in any way a time-sensitive conflict. To them, it doesn't matter how long it has to take-- the possibilities are victory or death.

Put yourself in an Israeli's shoes. (This isn't as difficult these days as it used to be.) A building explodes, or a bus full of schoolchildren gets blown up, or a suicide bomber kills a dozen people in a mall. What's your reaction? You want to have justice done and peace restored as quickly as possible. You want to get back to business. You want to have the threat removed so you can go back to your life. Hey, isn't that how we all reacted to 9/11? Sure, we knew that there would be a protracted war against terrorism-- but that it would be fought by our military, overseas, while Tom Ridge watched our backs so we could continue playing Ultima Online. We knew there was the threat of another attack any day, but we accepted the risk more and more the longer we went without such an attack. We have an accustomed lifestyle, and if it's interrupted, the kind of resolution we want is one that's all about expedience. Our lives are time-sensitive. We'll do what it takes to get things resolved now so we don't have to change how we live as a sacrifice toward a longer battle.

(My own experiences with having my server be offline for long periods of time-- while some ISP or co-location company held it hostage while its time-sensitive services languished, their usefulness decreasing with every passing offline day-- have colored my familiarity with this mindset. And the current situation isn't helping.)

But then look at the Palestinians. Compared to the Israeli way of life, theirs can hardly be worse. They have no reason to want a quick resolution. It's not in their interest. They've demonstrated that they're willing to live miserable lives, and even kill themselves, if it contributes to what is now a 50-year-plus Holy War. A quick resolution, one that involves compromise (such as the ones proposed by Barak and others in recent years), would not give them any benefit-- because it would involve taking away the only thing that keeps them fighting, which is vindication of their birthright to the land and their cultural superiority. Any offer which requires that they give up even one of the demands for which they're giving their lives seems to them like an insult heaped upon the graves of those who have died. They've been committed to holding this line, fighting this exact cause, for decades now... and for them to keep doing it for decades more is no skin off their noses. Why should they want peace? Why should they compromise? The threat of more conflict is no threat at all, because they're used to it. It's their way of life. There's no incentive to bring about peace, because none of them have ever known peace. It's not something they have to get back to as soon as possible-- it's an unreachable dream. They're perfectly satisfied to keep going as they are.

The Palestinians-- and many of the established Muslim nations who have similar attitudes toward Israel-- do have it in their power to become cooperative players in the world theater, to accept compromises for the mutual benefit of everyone. But the problem is that they are so convinced that their cause is Right, that they are entitled to privilege, and that the rest of the world can take their secular humanity and their religious tolerance and their gender equality and their economic fulfillment and stick it in their ear. They're the Chosen People, dammit, and accepting a peace proposal with any compromise in it is tantamount to admitting that they were wrong all this time. Unacceptable.

Scroll down a little further in USS Clueless, and you'll see a fascinating account of how Japan's cultural chauvinism was defeated to the mutual benefit of both Japan and the rest of the world. (I've been meaning to write for a long time about how since 9/11 Japan has held a weird comforting sort of fascination for me-- a people so materialistic and entrepreneurial as to be the direct opposite of the ascetic fundamentalism of al Qaeda, and therefore the ultimate in sympathetic benign cultural safety.) Steven says that this is ultimately the only way that Islam will be made a functioning part of the modern world, and more and more I suspect he's right.

The next ten or twenty years are going to involve some severe redrawing of boundary lines. Time to buy stock in a cartography firm.

10:01 - Gritting your Teeth So Hard they Crack

Lileks yesterday had a run-in with a Mac-basher at a party-- one of those types of PC Thugs who Will Not Be Derailed. They've got a maglev TGV of opinion, barreling down on any hapless soul who is obviously willingly making himself the subject of his ridicule by daring to delve a little deeper for the truth of a subject than what one has heard from one's friends on Everquest.

But the barkin' Brit had his script, and went to the next page with relish. “The Mac's intuitive, they say. Oh, yes! Dragging a floppy to the trash can to eject it, that's intuitive!”

“We don't have floppies anymore,” I said, smiling.

Another fellow chimed in, and insisted that the only people who used Macs were people who collected porn, since the Mac was so good at graphics.

“And they can't be networked!” the Brit said with inordinate delight.

“Actually, I have a wireless home network that works just fine, and at the office all the graphics Macs are networked quite nicely. Now, for burning DVDs at home -”

“WHO DOES THAT?” he brayed.

Obviously not PC users, Nigel, because they can't!

Even working where I do, literally across the street from Infinite Loop, where half the cars going through the intersection abutting our parking lot have white Apple decals in their windows, I still have to deal occasionally with people just like this. And like Lileks encountered, many of these people are my friends-- especially the ones I know only online-- so I can't just tear into them. I'm forced to write petulant blog articles directed at nobody in particular instead.

These are simply people who never allowed themselves to try something different. They'd already spent their money, they'd learned what they had to about their chosen platform, and thereby they'd convinced themselves through the act of gaining knowledge that Their Way Must Be Right. If they'd ever had a single experience with a Mac, their brains filtered and simmered it down into only the bad experiences, so they could develop a script like the one this guy had with which they could skewer any hapless misguided dweeb who happened to timidly raise his hand and mention how Macs are not just little beige all-in-one boxes with 9-inch black-and-white screens and no hard drives.

Really, they're not.

And it was Muslim terrorists who attacked on 9/11, not the Jews-- whatever the interviewees in Syria and Saudi Arabia still so vehemently insist. No, we can't be wrong, they say with a smile. Anyone who thinks a Muslim could have crashed that EgyptAir flight off Nantucket on purpose is an idiot and an anti-Islamic fanatic. Don't bother me with your petty "facts". I'm right, and you're just infidel scum. Nyah.

But what I especially loved about this exchange was the "Who wants to do that?" dismissals of the acknowledged strengths that James pointed out in the Mac's defense. Video editing? "Who does that?" DVD burning? "Who does that?" See, if it's a fact that can't be argued that the Mac is designed to do such things, and if it's accepted even in the background hum of a bar that the Mac does those things better, well then, those things must be irrelevant. Even the Mac's graphics capabilities are somehow turned into a liability with the remark about porn.

Remember when these same people would look at Macs and say things like "Icons and folders for your files? Who would want that?" and "24-bit color displays? Who would ever need that?" and "Plug-and-play devices? Dual-monitor setups where you just plug it in and drag the virtual screen to wherever you want it? TCP/IP settings that don't make you reboot when you change them? Customizable icons? Who would want that?"

I hear it every day at work. "Adjustable LCD monitor on a movable neck? Why would you ever want that?"

Yeah, well, they won't be saying that in two years, when everything has that. Then their sour grapes will have fermented nicely into sour wine. But they'll have something else to scoff at. Some things never change. And I suppose I should find that bizarrely comforting.

Because whenever someone scoffs, I just superimpose onto them a guy in a bowler hat sneering "Get a horse!"
Monday, March 25, 2002
00:40 - Can't sleep... blog will eat me...

I've got so much to catch up on-- so many URLs to blog about since two Wednesdays ago. So many topics to spout off about-- the Oscars, this past weekend's ski trip, iMovie and FreePlay, the SSSCA (or whatever it's called now), my Packer Award, the new iPod stuff, TV shows and movies...

...But I'm still catching up on sleep from the weekend's going all-out on the slopes. I don't regret it for a moment, but the price I have to pay for it is not being able to talk coherently about it for a few days at least.

Ah well-- at least I've got scads of footage with which to make a movie of the whole thing.

Good night, everybody.

21:16 - Apple Innovates Again!

Yeah, first I'd better get this out of the way: the $100 across-the-board price hike in iMacs that Apple announced last week in Tokyo.

Well, at the time, people were scoffing and clucking and dropping their ratings on Apple stock. "Oh no!" they cried. "Apple is having to raise prices on their already overpriced computers! And the rest of the computer world isn't raising their prices, so... you know all that positive stuff we've been saying about Apple for the past year? How they're on the rise, how they're bringing fresh new ideas and robustness to a flaccid tech economy? Well, forget it! Because they're now doomed! Dooooooomed!"

Well, Steve gets the last laugh, because (as he did say in the keynote) the price hikes are due to pressures that the whole computer industry will soon be feeling: RAM prices are rocketing up, and so are LCD prices. You can't get DIMMs in your breakfast cereal anymore. Even if you buy a Dell.

In the coming months, there are likely to be fewer bargains to be had as PC vendors shift the costs to consumers, offering systems with less memory and bumping up the prices for packages that include a flat-panel display.

Why, yeeeees. Didn't Steve, in fact, say almost exactly that? While he anticipated the other PC makers would respond to the price pressures by de-contenting their product line, offering less features for the money-- Apple would hold its product line outfitted as it was and simply raise prices by a Benjamin.

Of course, most people will only look at the price tag. Never mind that the machine they're looking at doesn't have an LCD (or a bundled monitor at all!), or FireWire or a combo drive or even any more than 128MB of RAM. It costs less! That's all that matters!

Well, we'll see what happens, anyway. But it does make me feel vaguely reassured whenever something happens exactly as Steve predicts. It's bad news, yes, but I'm certainly more willing to weather it now that I know they've got a plan.

The PC makers always come to adopt Apple's innovations, after all!

21:05 - Posting from Limbo

Okay... looks good so far.

The www.grotto11.com site is being run from my backup server. I don't know how long it'll have to continue here, but I hope it doesn't somehow suck in visitors to a degree that will overwhelm the meager bandwidth allotment that this server has.

The reason for this situation is that the main grotto11.com server (on which I run all of my personal projects and websites) is currently in a state of confused waiting and shuffling of feet. Ostensibly we're supposed to be moving to a new ISP, but because the machine is offline until such time as not-purely-money-based obstacles over which I have no direct control can be overcome, this will at least be online so I can keep spewing my thoughts out somewhere.

Yeah, I guess that means I have a real blogging problem. But hey! Now people can keep up with what's going on in my life again.

The main server might be back tomorrow, it might be back six weeks from now. I have no way of knowing. I hope it's not the latter, but it's happened before.

But... at least this time there's a backup server. And that's such a load off my mind.

Right... now to start posting all those URLs and ideas I've been ferreting away for the past two weeks.

20:58 - Testing...

Just seeing if we're on..
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© Brian Tiemann